The running theme with me and the Mariners the last few years is: I hold the pitching staff in the utmost contempt. It’s an unfair assertion, because I’m sure you could argue – bullpen aside, which seems like it was constructed to be terrible and cost this team games, to help generate higher draft picks – that at least the rotation has been adequate, and the reason why the Mariners have been so bad of late has more to do with the everyday roster. But, it’s hard to look at this unit and not see a bunch of fourth and fifth starters in other, more superior rotations.
I lament the lack of a true ace! Prior to 2019, we had James Paxton as our top dog (when healthy), and before that King Felix was our whole franchise. It’s rare for this organization – dating back to when I started being a fan in the mid-90’s – to NOT have at least one elite pitcher at the head of the rotation. But, for the last two years – and going forward, at least for now – that guy has been Marco Gonzales.
Every time I write about the guy, it’s the same analysis: he’s better than I ever thought he’d be, he’s better than people give him credit for, he just goes out there and gets the job done (at least keeping the team in his games, if he has to battle through a subpar performance), and his job as one of this team’s key leaders has been an absolute revelation! He’s a Pacific Northwest guy, he loves the area, and that makes a big difference. He WANTS to be here! He WANTS to win! And he’s going to out-work everyone to make sure that happens, bettering both his own game and those of the players around him.
If you’re talking about a team’s Ace, you couldn’t ask for more from a Marco Gonzales! Except, you know, some more M’s per H on his fastball. Because how excited can you get about an ace who throws in the 80’s and low 90’s? I’m sure in the 1920’s he would’ve been the bee’s knees, hombre; the total cat’s meow. But, as we’re all aware, athletes have advanced their training techniques beyond swinging a medicine ball around and pulling springs apart. Dudes are jacked and better at sports than ever before, and nothing beats a strikeout when you’re a Major League pitcher.
As always, I feel I need to make a point of saying I like Marco Gonzales! I want him to be with the Mariners for a very long time. He reminds me of a Jamie Moyer type whose game can endure for years, and be a mainstay in this rotation. But, from an interest-level standpoint, I’m hoping some of these prospects with a more impressive assortment of pitches will break through and take over this team’s Ace role, so we can slot Gonzo as the #2 or #3 where he belongs and really make the most of this rebuild.
Like some of these other reliable workhorses on the roster, I know what I’m going to get from Gonzales: Quality Starts much more often than not. I’m a red-blooded American male who likes a good handjob as much as the next guy! I’m never going to turn down a Marco Gonzales Quality Start. I’m just saying that they’re rarely going to make my toes curl or cause me to distractedly drift into oncoming traffic.
If you want to see a Mariners victory in 2021, tune into a Gonzo start and you’re likely to get your wish. But, if you’re more interested in what this team could look like in 2022 and beyond, odds are you’re going to want to get a live stream of the Tacoma Rainiers or the Arkansas Travelers.